New to running, or just trying to get back into it after a hiatus? Great. It’s one of the easiest sports to take up—all you need is a great pair of kicks and a sports bra, and you’re ready to go. Plus making your way through miles can help you shed pounds, bust stress, and even lower your risk of getting certain cancers.
Before you head out the door at full speed, though—which will almost certainly leave you injured—consider this: “Running is really hard on your body and you just have to be smart about it,” says John Hancock Elite Ambassador Blake Russell, an Olympic marathoner, physical therapist, and owner of On Track Physical Therapy in Pacific Grove, California. “The key is just starting out really slow.”
Stick to soft surfaces
While there is nothing wrong with pounding the pavement, it can be harsh on the body, especially if yours isn’t used to the movement or surface. Russell’s rec: start off on softer surfaces (think grass, sand, or even the treadmill). While a softer surface doesn’t automatically equal injury-free, a small study in the journal Research in Sports Medicine revealed that running on grass, for instance, puts less pressure on the foot compared to running on concrete.
Give yourself time to build muscle
“It takes the body at least six weeks to build muscle,” says Russell, “so give your body time to build that muscle.” In other words, don’t take on too much mileage too soon; that’s a surefire way to end up sidelined. To help your body adapt, and shore up those muscles, consider strengthening exercises, such as planks, clamshells, side squats.
Try the run-walk method
Can’t make it through your miles without stopping? That’s OK. While you are building your endurance (or if you just need a break mid-run), there is nothing wrong with a little walking. Rodgers suggests trying the run-walk method, which is running for a set amount of time, walking for a set amount of time, and then repeating the cycle. We recover when we walk, notes Rodgers, who believes that the 5K is an ideal running distance and that our bodies were made to run around three miles.